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2023 G7 Summit in Hiroshima

Ichiro Suzuki In May, leaders of the developed world gathered in Hiroshima, Japan for their annual G7 Summit. Hosting a summit should mark the apex of Fumio Kishida’s time as prime minister, regardless of how long he stays on the job. As soon as Mr. Kishida rose to power in the fall of 2021, he picked Hiroshima, his constituency, as the site of the 2023 summit. Hiroshima has a special place in the minds of Japanese people, because of the tragedy on August 6, 1945. The day of nuclear catastrophe of Hiroshima marks Japan’s most important war-related memorial day in the same tune with Armistice Day, D-Day, etc. Every August 6 and 9, the Japanese government makes great efforts so that memories of the disasters do not fade, vowing never to let a nuclear tragedy happen again anywhere on this earth. (August 9 for Nagasaki.) Were it not for the A-bomb, Hiroshima would have been another large city in western Japan. The bomb, however, has changed the fate of Hiroshima, giving the city a place in world history, and making it as a symbol of anti-nuclear movements. Hiroshima, along with Nagasaki, gives Japan a special place in the world of diplomacy, so the Japanese tend to think. “As the only nation to be bombed with nuclear weapons” is a favorite phrase politicians and the media want to use repeatedly though it is not certain how this is taken outside Japan. Nuclear tragedies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the facts that no one can deny, but people outside Japan might just think “So you think you folks are special?” Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in addition, have instilled a sense of victimhood in Japanese people’s minds though the country was an aggressor in WWII. Immediately following the last G7 Summit in Japan in 2016, Mr. Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, accepting an invitation from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. President Obama made a soaring speech advocating a world without nuclear weapons. People in and outside of Japan were overjoyed with the speech and anti-nuclear weapons activists were ecstatic. Then, not surprisingly, nothing followed, disappointing those whose hopes went high, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While the Japanese government advocates nuclear disarmament, it has no intention of ratifying the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted by the United Nations’ General Assembly in 2017. Oslo’s Nobel committee gave the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) the 2017 Peace Prize for authoring the treaty, in the same fashion they gave the 2013 prize to President Obama on his one speech that was not followed by any action. The committee in Oslo appears to be a bunch of idealists. Here comes realpolitik, which has been long embraced by Dr. Henry Kissinger who turned 100 immediately following the Hiroshima Summit. Cold calculation of costs and benefits outweighs idealism in diplomacy, as well as many other things in real life. With peace, and hence prosperity, having been delivered to Japan under the nuclear umbrella of the United States, Japan is in no position to shout about abolishing nuclear weapons, especially at a time when the People’s Republic of China is said to be rapidly expanding their nuclear stockpiles. The same is true for NATO members as well as South Korea and Australia that have a military pact with the U.S. Though Sweden showed interest in the treaty at the outset as a non-NATO country, they might have a different opinion today as they are wishing to join the military pact after Russia’s Ukraine invasion. When Mikhail Gorbachev rose to power in the Soviet Union, he brought up a vision of “eliminating all nuclear weapons from the face of the earth” for the 1986 Reykjavik Summit with President Ronald Reagan. The new Soviet leader was embraced as representing the end of the Cold War. Dr. Kissinger was far too skeptical of Mr. Gorbachev’s willingness to makes sweeping changes in Soviet foreign policy. Dr. Kissinger proved to be right though the Cold War did end in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Mr. Gorbachev’s idealism had a short shelf life. In the 2020s, Russia is at a war in Ukraine, essentially against the West. Russian President Vladimir Putin is threatening use of tactical nuclear weapons.

The Japanese public as a whole is more of realists than media headlines tend to suggest. Roughly 60% of those who were surveyed does not expect the Hiroshima Summit to lead to the world without nuclear weapons. The Summit was largely rated as success, not because it was an important step toward the end of nuclear weapons, but it solidified ties among the developed world leaders against the threat of China and its partner Russia. French President Macron was probably reminded of where G7 stands against China, a month after he made a remark on China that drew international criticism. A speech by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky marked a high moment for the Summit. A sense crisis of the rule-based world older was also shared among the Global South leaders that included India’s Modi and Brazil’s Lula even if they tend to sit on a fence on a variety of issues but especially on Ukraine, lured by economic rewards dangled by Presidents Xi and Putin. At the very least, the Summit made it clear to them why Ukraine is fighting a war against Russia. About the author: Mr. Suzuki is a retired banking executive based in Tokyo, Japan.


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